Attempting challenging puzzles and reading up on the theory of relativity aren’t the only ways to keep your brain at its finest.
The right diet also can do wonders, improving the brain’s function and even helping to reverse brain damage. Meanwhile, the opposite also is true. Poor diet choices not only hurt the waistline, but have a negative effect on the brain.
“When it comes to the brain, sugar is public enemy No. 1,” says Daniel Amen, M.D., a clinical neuroscientist and brain imaging expert who also is the founder of Amen Clinics (www.amenclinics.com), which treat patients at six locations around the country.
Sugar is pro-inflammatory, increases erratic brain-cell firings and is addictive, says Amen, author of the New York Times bestseller, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. He doesn’t hold back his disdain.
“Sugar is insidious, sort of like heroin,” he says. “It will make you want it over and over again. It’s like dating the bad boys. You fall in love with something that beats you up.”
Sugar has company on Amen’s list of unfriendly brain foods, including a few surprises, such as corn, which has one of the worst fatty-acid profiles of any vegetable. Others on the avoid-at-all-costs list include artificial dyes, especially red dye; foods with trans fats, such as cookies, cakes and pie crusts; and low-fiber foods, which include many fast-food choices.
Fortunately, there are also great food options that can heal the brain and even help reverse brain damage, Amen says. Those include:
- Healthy fats. Surprisingly, fat is not the enemy. That’s because there are “good fats” and “bad fats.” Some examples of good fats are olives, sunflower seeds and flaxseed. Amen also points out that 60 percent of the solid weight of the brain is fat. “So if someone calls you a fathead, you should thank them,” he says.
- Fish. Salmon, halibut, sardines, mackerel and other fish are loaded with healthy oils and healthy fat. “People who eat grilled or baked fish once a week have more gray matter in their brain,” Amen says. “You may not want gray in your hair, but gray in your brain is awesome.”
- Avocados. This nutrient-dense fruit is loaded with healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which build brain-cell membranes, reduce brain inflammation and promote new brain-cell formation.
- Raw nuts. Go easy on the amount because they pack a lot of calories, but raw nuts are very healthy for the brain.
- Chocolate. Here’s another surprise. Chocolate also has been shown to decrease cravings and increase blood flow to the brain. It’s what usually is added to chocolate – sugar and dairy products – that makes it bad.
- Colorful vegetables. Green is great, but with vegetables you can branch out into such choices as yellow squash, purple carrots and orange bell peppers. “You want things that are high in fiber, that are colorful, that are really medicine for your brain,” Amen says.
“Anytime you prepare to eat something, don’t just think about the pounds you might put on,” Amen says. “Ask yourself: Is this good for my brain or is it bad for my brain?”
About Daniel Amen, M.D.
Daniel Amen, M.D., (www.amenclinics.com) is a clinical neuroscientist and brain imaging expert who heads Amen Clinics, which are located in Orange County, Calif., Atlanta, San Francisco, New York City, Washington, D.C., and the Seattle area. He has written numerous books, including The Amen Solution: The Secret to Being Thinner, Smarter, Happier and Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. Dr. Amen also has appeared as a guest on such TV shows as “The View” and was a consultant for the movie Concussion.